Railroad (Robledo Mountain #4)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
Tom and I were relaxing after breakfast, enjoying our umpteenth cup of fresh hot coffee when the ladies had decided we’d had enough time.
“So, Pablo, you’ve had your breakfast and coffee, now tell us about the trip,” she demanded in an almost imperial voice.
Looking around the table, I realized for the first time that Tom and I were the only men in the room. “As you command, my Lady,” I replied giving her a sitting bow. “But first, where is everyone?”
“Well, it is harvest time, Paul. Tomas is out with his farmers and all the volunteers harvesting all the ready crops. Hector is making sure the drives to the three forts are all set and ready to leave the day after tomorrow. Miguel and Maco are taking your four new Deputies through Scout/Sniper training, and Cisco and Danny’s wives are helping at the nursery.
“The masons should have arrived by now and are probably hard at work trying to complete the second Segundo home. By the way, Hector and Lorena love their new home, although they haven’t been able to move in yet. The furniture they selected, down in El Paso del Norte, hasn’t arrived yet.
“Giuseppe is out checking the rail beds between here and the Caballo Mountains. He’s really been worried they laid the stone down too early. He’s less worried now that he’s checked the rail bed between here and Las Cruces and found everything to be fine. But you know Giuseppe, he won’t quit worrying about it until the ties and rails have been laid.”
“You mean the rail bed all the way to the Caballo Mountains is already laid?” I asked in amazement.
“Yes. Giuseppe should be back tonight, so I’ll let him tell you about the progress they made on the railroad. Now, no more questions, tell us what happened.”
“All right, my love, since you insist, attend me and I shall regale you with the latest tales of heroism and chivalry from the brave Knights of the Order of La Mancha Oeste,” I said in my best announcer’s voice.
Between Tom and me, we managed to tell them all about the trip. We quickly covered the first part of the trip, slowing down when we got to the part where Tom and I split off to ride into Tucson. They thought the story of finding Frank and Lee in Tucson was extremely interesting. They also agreed with our suspicions about the Town’s Deputy Marshal. I briefly covered the short fight with the Navajo and the rest of the trip to our camp. I was careful not to mention the goldfield at all, simply saying we got to our destination.
We then told the tale of running across the bandits and our fight with them. We actually spent most of the time telling them of our trip back. The mules straining to pull the heavy loads, the long days, camping in the rain, driving in the rain, making camp in the rain. The mules wearing themselves out trying to pull the wagons through the heavy sticky caliche when we couldn’t find hardpan for them to walk on. We ended the story with us splitting up after crossing the Rio Grande.
“Now, my love, it’s your turn,” I said with a smile. “Much has happened here I’m sure. Tell us.”
“Oh, dear, so much has happened! You’re right,” Anna said with a small enigmatic smile. Collecting her thoughts, she began telling us all the things that had happened while we were gone.
“Hector returned from Taos with the sheep. He stopped in Santa Fe on his way and deposited the bank draft for the herd. Between that draft and the quarterly sales to the forts, the Estancia is operating in the black again this year. Our herd is down to nine thousand head now and since we corralled the bulls this year there won’t be any new calves next year.
“The sheep have been broken into four flocks and are grazing all along the base of the Robledos. The Basque shepherds are absolutely delightful people and have fit in well with everyone else. We decided to make the area between the Nine Ponds and the lake the permanent home for the sheep. That will take a few years though as we need to clear and level it all, bring in topsoil, and plant grass. Tomas wants a combination of timothy and alfalfa. The clearing and leveling will start next month after the harvest is all in.
“The finca is doing extremely well, thanks to the ladies of the Estancia. With so many men gone I offered temporary jobs to any who wanted them. Thankfully, that village nursery you suggested, had been set up and it came into good use this spring and summer. We’ve sold everything we’ve harvested in Las Cruces, Mesilla, and to the three fort commissaries. Even with the extra expenses of hiring the ladies and paying more ladies to work in the nursery, the finca is also running in the black. Canning has started in the community center and will ramp up the next few weeks until the harvest is over.
“One of Juan’s contacts found us four hundred more pecan seedlings, which I bought. They are now planted on this side of Nine Ponds to start the big orchard we talked about.
“Mark Smith and Oliver Timmons, the two surveyors recommended by Jim Longstreet, arrived and seem like very nice men. Giuseppe took them out for a week to evaluate them and when he came back, recommended they be hired, which I did. He took them to Las Cruces, had a meeting with Juan. They both left with four teams of security, a map, building plans, a scraper, an iron roller, a twenty-man road crew, and two masons, one of ours and one of Juan’s. Mark went to Socorro, where he was to survey the depot, clear and level the ground, and get the mason’s started on the building. Once that’s done, he was to start surveying and building the rail bed towards Santa Fe. He was authorized to hire up to fifty additional men for the road crew. Oliver went to Santa Fe to do the same thing.
“Word from both Socorro and Santa Fe is that things are progressing well although Oliver’s group up in Santa Fe have had to fight off almost weekly raids from bandits. The depot buildings in both Socorro and Santa Fe are going well. At last word, despite the late start, the roadbed from Socorro has been built out over seven miles towards Santa Fe. The roadbed from Santa Fe is only twelve miles out but that’s because they are building the bridge over that deep gorge. They plan to have that ready by early summer next year as well.
“The depot complex in Las Cruces is going well and they’ll keep working on it as long as the weather holds. Giuseppe and Juan’s road crews have made great progress on the rail bed from Las Cruces towards Socorro. Much better than the others. Partly because the road crews are the most experienced and partly because they were working in the valley for a large portion of the distance. There wasn’t much change in elevation to worry about until they reached the Caballo Mountains which is as far as they’ve gotten. Giuseppe completed the survey all the way to San Antonio which means he’s nine miles from Socorro.
“Jorge made the trip up to Socorro like we asked, and after looking around the building, worked with the Mayor and Sheriff to understand the city and county’s office needs. The final plans everyone agreed to, are on the desk in your den for you to review. Seeing the work started on the depot complex and Jorge working on the plans was all the Mayor needed to accept your rental terms. The work on the old Pacheco building will begin when the depot complex is completed.
“The mine is doing well, and we started receiving iron ingots in mid-June. Ramon and the blacksmiths are extremely happy with the quality and quantity of the iron. Juan has four scrapers now, one for each of the three railroad teams and one he kept in Las Cruces. I had four more made for the Estancia to use. I also decided to make four more for Juan, he swears they make clearing and leveling the railroad bed much quicker.
“There have been no incidents up at the mine between the miners and the Mimbreños. Mangas Coloradas is holding up his end of the bargain. The security teams spend most of their time trying to keep the miners under control as they are constantly trying to sneak away on their days off to prospect on their own.
“Juan finished the road between Pinos Altos and Mesilla. It’s just like the Estancia roads now. The barracks are done and most of the miners have moved into them although getting enough furniture is proving to be more difficult than we’d thought. I did send them a big stove for their kitchen that Mrs. Amador had available.
“Work continues on the processing building, which is a little behind schedule. Clearing that much land was much more difficult than they’d planned on because of all the large rocks, small boulders really, that had to be removed. They hope to have it done by early summer next year. The masons only have another eight or nine weeks before the weather turns too cold to work until next spring.”
Anna reached to pour herself more coffee only to discover that all the pots were empty. We all agreed when Celia said, “Let’s take a short break while we get more coffee and I’ll check on lunch.”
Ten minutes later, coffee refreshed, and with the knowledge that lunch would be served in less than an hour, Anna picked up recounting the events that had happened while we were on our trip.
“The masons up at the mine returned a few weeks ago, pleased with the abilities of Juan’s masons who were now working on their own. Likewise, the masons working on the depot complex in Las Cruces returned after only three weeks, pleased with the abilities of the masons Juan had hired there. Juan sent us six masons, part of his extended family from down in Chihuahua, that he was sure we could use. And he was right. With all but two of our masons on the Estancia and with the six additional masons from Juan, we’ve made good headway in catching up on the Estancia building program.
“The upper and lower plateau walls have been completed and the first Segundo house has been completed. The second Segundo house should be completed by the middle of October. They’ll start the third Segundo house when the second is finished but probably won’t get it completed before the weather gets too cold.
“Heinrich and one of his masons have spent most of their time out with Giuseppe designing and pouring concrete anchors for what seems like hundreds of bridges over the arroyos between Las Cruces and the Caballo Mountains. The mason up in Santa Fe has also spent a large amount of his time designing and pouring huge concrete anchors for the bridge over the gorge. Heinrich had the Estancia blacksmiths make hundreds of iron rods he sent up to Santa Fe to be added to the concrete anchors. He said the rods would strengthen the concrete.
Anna stopped for a moment, apparently thinking about what other things she wanted to tell us about. Instead of continuing, however, she surprised us. “I’ll let Yolanda tell you about everything else since it’s all things she was handling.”
Taken off guard, Yolanda gathered her thoughts for a few moments and began.
“Nantan and Juan made their trip, as scheduled, up to Sierra Blanca. Nantan had a good idea where Santana might be and said that the best way to make contact was to find a nice camp and wait, especially since they had six security teams with them. Santana rode into their camp two days later.
“Santana was intrigued by Nantan’s request to allow Juan and his loggers to cut trees identified by Mescalero warriors and then cut those logs and freight them out from the old sawmill. The offer of caps, balls, powder, flour, coffee, and salt as payment for allowing them to cut trees and use the sawmill unimpeded went a long way towards his acceptance. The clincher was Nantan’s insistence that there would be no clear-cut logging. The fact that everyone but Juan and his loggers spoke Apache helped significantly.
“Within two weeks of the agreement, the old sawmill had been cleaned up and was in operation. A group of warriors led by Cadete, one of Santana’s brothers, had marked hundreds of trees, within five miles of the old mill, to be cut down. A log barracks, for the loggers and mill workers, was built next to the mill and the workers all seem to be happy.
“Juan’s got quite a stack of carbolic acid treated railroad ties in his yard with more coming in every week. The sawmill is also supplying all the bridge supports and trestles the rail bed crews need so things seem to be working well in that regard.
“The security teams with the loggers helped Santana’s warriors fight off two extremely large Comanche raids the first month they were there. Santana’s worried about the size and number of the Comanche raids which are getting much larger and more frequent than previous years, so he was thankful for the help. He was even more thankful when the security teams started taking turns doing a weekly patrol towards Comancheria. Their reports to him at the end of each patrol let him know when more raids are coming and the likely target of those raids.
“Santana did agree to attend the meeting that’s set to start at the end of next week. The tribal shaman and war leaders will be with him. Nantan was very surprised at Santana’s rapid acceptance. He said it was almost as if Santana was expecting it.
“Miguel made the trip up to see Loco, Mangas Coloradas, and Delgadito with a formal invitation to the meeting and they all readily agreed to attend. They also agreed to send out word to the other Chiricahua bands inviting their leaders to attend. We’ve no word who else will attend, we’ll just have to see who shows up.
“Miguel and Nantan have the women making a large camp with wickiups near the lake for the warriors. We plan to hold the meeting itself there as well. They’ll take you out there sometime in the next couple of days to look at it yourself and make any changes you want.
“We’ve had seven raids here at the Estancia. Two small Navajo raids, four medium to large Comanche raids, and one Apache raid. All but one of the Navajo raiding parties were defeated outside the boundary of the Estancia with none of our men killed or injured. The Navajo raid that made it inside the boundary of the Estancia is a different story.
“Apparently, the four Navajo warriors on that raid were extremely experienced. Neither the Scout/Sniper teams nor the lookouts ever saw them. They crept into the Estancia in the dead of night and set up an ambush near the northern end of the Estancia. One of the farm teams rode into the ambush the next morning. All four Navajo warriors were killed but we lost Emiliano Salas and Roberto Rodriquez.
“After the funeral, Mrs. Salas decided to stay here with her children. She all but runs the nursery so she should be okay financially. Mrs. Rodriquez, the young wife of Roberto, decided to return home to Las Cruces in the hopes of finding another husband. Anna ‘bought’ her home for fifty dollars and that combined with her savings sets her up pretty well.”
“Juan and Jorge heard about our loss, and sent us two more farmers, with their families, so we have two new additional men going through language and Apache training. They and their families are settling in well.
“The two largest Comanche raids were killed to the last man. There were so many of them that we decided to use some of your grenades on their camp after they went to sleep the night before they were going to raid us. The Scout/Sniper teams took out the night guards and the grenades did the rest.
“Your four new Deputies showed up within a week of each other, and their language training started almost immediately. Miguel ran them through the Apache course and then we turned them to learning to read and write. They’re progressing well in that regard. They’re currently in the middle of Scout/Sniper training, after which they’ll go back to reading and writing.
“Frank and Lee were fascinated by the youth program and they’ve filled all the empty time they have learning more about the program and helping the old ones. They’ve both made some really good suggestions in organization and specific knowledge badges that the old ones liked and implemented.
“We haven’t heard much from ‘the Boss’. We got a letter from the Judge three weeks ago that said they hadn’t made much progress on their end either. Two of the three suspects are on trips back east so if either of them is ‘the Boss’ that could explain the lack of activity. They’ve identified five possible suspects as the middleman who hires and runs raids for ‘the Boss’, but as yet, it’s still too early to tell if any of them are the man we were told about.
“As Anna said, there are almost weekly attacks on the roadbed crews up near Santa Fe. No one’s been hurt yet but it just a matter of time. More insidious are the frequent nighttime attacks on the roadbed itself. At least three times a week the crews wake up to reports of large sections of completed roadbed having been dug up. Since the crushed stone hasn’t been added to the roadbeds up there yet, it doesn’t take much to fill the holes in and tamp the bed with the rollers. It does add to the time it’s taking to build the roadbed though.
“There was one medium to large attack on the bridge over the big gorge. Somewhere between twenty and thirty men attacked just after sundown. The Scout/Sniper teams saw them coming and warned the security teams in time for them to set up a quick ambush for the attackers. Twenty of the attackers were killed and somewhere between five and ten of the attackers got away. At least two of them were hurt but we don’t know how bad. The teams tried to track them back to wherever they came from, but they lost the tracks just inside Santa Fe.
“Jim Longstreet sent us two officers who’d resigned and six non-commissioned officers he thought would do well in the railroad security force you want to create. Miguel and I interviewed and hired them with the caveat that you and George would interview and approve or disapprove them on your return. We sent them back down to Las Cruces and Mesilla to mingle with the now close to three hundred men Juan has gathered in both places to fill the security teams.
“They are working with Juan to identify those from his family and friends and those they don’t know. They’ve been quietly working to weed out those they don’t want for whatever reason. The last I heard, two weeks ago, they had identified one hundred and fifty that they thought would do well.
“Manuel Rivera and his musicians all made it here and have settled into their jobs after getting their houses built. All of them seem happy. They quickly made contact with the masons’ string players and they all get together three nights a week to practice. They had Jose expand the gazebo in the plaza so that it could hold all the musicians. Their first concert is planned for the end of the month, during the harvest celebration, which also coincides with the welcome party for your meeting with the Apache.
“We also have nine young men starting the final testing for their Warrior rank in the youth organization the morning after the party. Passing the test not only gives them youth organization rank of Warrior but also makes them Mescalero warriors as well, so there’s a lot of interest in how they are tested and how well they do. No one but the old ones know the specifics of the test, although I suspect that Frank and Lee also know as they both reportedly suggested some changes to make it tougher.”
Yolanda stopped, thinking for a moment, before adding, “That’s everything, I think.”
“That’s more than enough,” I replied with a smile. “How you two can do that off the top of your head is beyond me. Excellent job though, in both telling us everything that’s happened, and doing such a good job. You were right, Anna, things are going well despite a few setbacks. I’m really sorry to hear about Emiliano and Roberto. I really liked those two. Of course, I’d feel that way about any of my Estancia ‘family’.”
“Any word from Vic Armijo or Jim Longstreet?” Tom asked.
“Not a word,” Anna replied. “Vic did stop by on his way out to the area Paul asked him to check on and told us that he’d check in with us at the end of the summer, but so far, nothing.”
I was about to reply when Cristina came out of the kitchen carrying a huge platter of cheeseburgers followed by Carla who was carrying bowls of French fries. Even though Tom and I had eaten a late breakfast, the sight and smell of the cheeseburgers and fries made us hungry all over again.
After lunch, Tom and I took a short ride over to the ‘Estancia Memorial’ at the insistence of Anna and Yolanda. They had both raved about what the Riveras had done to the huge circle of boulders where, so long ago, we had decided to memorialize all those who died on the Estancia. If anything, Anna and Yolanda had understated what had been done in the large bare circle of boulders.
The area between the boulders had been filled in with roses, grass had been planted, filling in the bare area surrounded by the boulders, and in the center, a large azalea tree had been transplanted from somewhere else. Four wrought iron benches had been placed, one at each of the cardinal points. Emiliano and Roberto’s names had already been added to the list, chiseled on the largest boulder, of those who had either died on the Estancia or elsewhere and we considered family. At the top of the list were Izabella’s and Alejandro’s parents, the first of our family to die on the Estancia.